A class at the Fat Yoga studio in Portland, Oregon. This image was taken for their 2015 Body Positive Calendar.
“Some people find the word empowering,” explains Michael Hayes, owner of New York City’s Buddha Body Yoga, which offers six to 10 fat yoga classes a week. “The people who have a hard time with it … that’s their issue. They have to choose to work with it or not.”
While fat yoga is similar to traditional yoga in terms of practice and philosophy, Hayes tells Yahoo Health that there are some differences. The most noticeable is that many fat yoga sessions won’t allow slim people to participate. “People tend to self-select,” says Hayes. “But if you’re coming to class and you’re 120 pounds…[laughs]. We’re going to have issues.”
Another is the increased level of support, both mentally and physically. Fat yoga classes tend to have a heightened sense of camaraderie, says Hayes, and many go through detailed explanations of why certain poses are helpful for each body type. Someone who has a big belly, for example, may benefit differently from a pose than a person who is top-heavy.
An instructor demonstrating the boat pose at Nashville’s Curvy Yoga.(Photo: Facebook)
His practice and many others also use props to ease people into poses. The overall goal, Hayes says, is to teach people to relax, feel more comfortable in their bodies, and learn to move better.
Related: The 8 Best Yoga Poses For Men
But what about the use of the word “fat” to describe these classes and, presumably, the people who take them?
According to body image expert Adrienne Ressler, LMSW, a VP at eating disorder clinic The Renfrew Center, the word “fat” can be positive when it’s used in the setting of a fat yoga class. “You’re not being sent to fat yoga because you don’t fit in the other yoga class — you made a choice to go,” she tells Yahoo Health. “It says to the culture, fat is not a negative word, it’s descriptive.”
Wall work at New York City’s Buddha Body Yoga.(Photo: Facebook)
Ressler says the concept is a great one, especially since a lot of larger people don’t feel comfortable going to places where they fear they’ll be discriminated against. By creating an environment exclusively for people of a certain size, fat yoga classes provide an additional layer of comfort for people who might otherwise be wary of attending a fitness class.
As for the no skinny people allowed rule found at many fat yoga studios? Ressler sees no issue with it and says it’s not as discriminatory as some yoga studios that only take people of a certain body type and fitness level.
While studios that exclusively cater to fat yoga are growing across the U.S., many other yoga studios, such as Washington D.C.’s Supportive Yoga, are offering classes for people who are “curvy” or have a “larger body size.”